What is Formative Assessment? - Strategies & Examples

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  • 0:03 Formative Assessment
  • 1:29 Benefits of Formative…
  • 2:09 Examples of Formative…
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Harkema

Becca teaches special education and is completing her doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

Formative assessment can help teachers plan the most effective instruction. In this lesson, you'll learn what formative assessments are, why they are important, and multiple strategies that you can implement in the classroom.

Formative Assessment

As a new classroom teacher, I remember the confusion I experienced after a week-long math unit. I had been working with my students all week on multiplication. We spent Monday and Tuesday reviewing basic multiplication facts, and by Wednesday and Thursday we were engaging in multiplying 2-digit by 1-digit numbers. I was so excited because I had incorporated many activities into instruction: we used technology, students worked in groups, and we played games to review the skill. I was certain my students were ready for Friday's test!

However, as I graded their tests, I was shocked to see that some of my students were unable to solve the problems because they had errors in their basic facts. After some reflection, I realized that if I had incorporated formative assessment into my instruction, I could have made changes to my lessons so that my students were more successful.

Formative assessments are ongoing assessments that help teachers understand students' progress and their level of understanding during a unit of instruction. In contrast to a test given at the end of a chapter or unit (known as assessment OF learning), formative assessment is known as assessment FOR learning because this information can help teachers adjust instruction during the unit to help students experience success.

Now that we know what formative assessments are, let's look at some of the benefits of using them in daily instruction.

Benefits of Formative Assessment

There are many benefits of incorporating formative assessment into instruction. Some of these are that:

  • Teachers can modify instruction based on the learning of their students
  • They also can identify student errors early and provide re-teaching when needed
  • Students can receive feedback about their learning in order to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • They also are given opportunities to set learning goals and ask questions for clarification
  • Students are challenged to think deeply about what and how they've learned
  • They learn how to self-evaluate their own level of understanding
  • Student learning and achievement increases

Examples of Formative Assessment

Because formative assessment can benefit students, let's examine some practical ways that teachers can incorporate these techniques before, during, and after instruction.

Before a Lesson

Entrance Ticket:
An entrance ticket is one way to incorporate formative assessment before instruction. Teachers can pose a question for students to respond to on a note card, sticky note, or slip of paper. This question can ask students to answer a factual question, solve a problem, or even rate their own level of understanding of the material they've learned so far.

4-Corner Assessment:
4-corner assessment is another formative assessment tool used before instruction. In this activity, teachers label each corner of the room with the labels: 'Strongly Agree,' 'Agree,' 'Disagree,' or 'Unsure.' Teachers then pose a series of questions about the previous day's lesson, and students gather in the corner that represents their level of understanding.

During a Lesson

Colored Cups:
During a lesson, teachers might employ the colored cups method of formative assessment. Each student has a set of colored cups on their desk (one red, one yellow, and one green). A student displays his green cup if he understands the lesson, his yellow cup if he's a little confused, and his red cup if he doesn't understand at all.

Thumbs Up, Sideways, or Down:
Another formative assessment method that can be used during a lesson is thumbs up, sideways, or down. This is a very easy strategy that teachers can use multiple times throughout a lesson. Students give the thumbs up sign if they understand the content, a sideways thumb if they're a little confused, and thumbs down if they're very confused.

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